forward James Neal
joined NHL Live to discuss facing the Columbus Blue Jackets
and his expectations for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's an exciting time of year and why you play the game," Neal said.
Although the Penguins went 5-0 against the Blue Jackets in the regular season, Neal knows it will be a clean slate when Pittsburgh and Columbus square off in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, CBC, NBCSN, FS-O, ROOT).
"Everything changes when you get into the playoffs," Neal said. "It's going to be a fun series. They're a hard-working team, well-coached, great goaltending, so once you get in the playoffs it's a different story and we're excited to get going.
"Everyone has a chance now, so we have to match that and be better than them, and if not, more hard working than they are."
Despite injuries to numerous players including Neal (concussion), Evgeni Malkin (foot), Kris Letang (stroke) and Pascal Dupuis (knee surgery), the Penguins won the Metropolitan Division with 109 points, second-most in the Eastern Conference.
"Injury wise it's been really tough not having our full team in the lineup," Neal said. "But the way guys came in from the American [Hockey] League, and guys getting a chance to play different roles, it's been good. Everyone has gotten their fair share and a chance to play, which is nice, but the biggest thing for us is we're getting healthy at the right time and that's the best start we ever could ask for going into the playoffs."